The two ranking members of the Columbia County Board of Education praised the academic success and fiscal responsibility of the public school system at a Republican Party breakfast Saturday.
"I say this, and I think everyone would agree, that our school system is an asset that I think everyone in Columbia County can be proud of," school board chairman Wayne Bridges said.
Columbia County spends much less per child than the average school in Georgia, yet exceeds federal standards and is in sound financial shape, said School Superintendent Tommy Price.
Price also said the system is not considering a tax increase.
"We're not doing that because we're getting results,'' he said. "We're one of the top school systems."
The superintendent praised the system's teachers for maintaining high test scores and parents for voting to continue Special Purpose Local Option Sales taxes for capital projects, which has kept the school system from having to issue bonds for new school construction.
The chairman said the school system is anticipating 700 new students in the coming school year and citizens should expect heavy growth to continue for years to come.
To head off the growth, or at least keep pace with it, the school board is moving ahead with land purchases for new elementary and middle school construction, Bridges said.
Some of that land will be purchased in the Greenbrier area, where an expansion of Riverwood Plantation and other developments will bring thousands of home sites in the next 10 to 20 years.
The board recently closed on a parcel off Blackstone Camp Road for a middle school, which will help relieve overcrowding at Riverside, Lakeside and Greenbrier middle schools, Bridges said.
"You have to look ahead, you can't look at what you built yesterday because they (new students) keep coming," Bridges said.
The school board leaders also addressed the issues of drugs and recent cases of peer-to-peer sexual misconduct, which they said have been mischaracterized in the media.
Bridges said parents need to understand the drugs do not originate on school grounds.
"We've got to focus on where these drugs are coming from and then get rid of them," Bridges said.
On the issue of peer-to-peer sexual misconduct, Price said the cases have not been violent and that many cases began with a student willingly accompanying another peer, though he conceded some incidents went further than one student or the other intended.
"Children couldn't be safer than they are in our public schools," he said.
On the issue of sex in schools, the school board leaders and juvenile justice Judge Doug Flanagan announced a new initiative to reinforce the teaching of abstinence.
At no cost to the school system, Flanagan said he hopes to bring a "nationally recognized speaker to Columbia County to speak at each of the public middle and high schools about abstinence."
Many of the teen sex cases he presides over are not violent cases but cases of consensual sex that are against state law and many could be stopped with reinforcement of abstinence, Flanagan said.
The details and the date of this program were not yet set, Price said following the meeting.
Columbia County state legislative delegation members Rep. Sue Burmeister, Rep. Barry Fleming and Sen. Jim Whitehead also attended the breakfast and updated the area party on the progress made so far in the 2006 session.
The senator and representatives touted the recently revised Voter Identification Bill and the state's supplemental budget for the second half of this fiscal year, which Whitehead said was geared toward education, as big wins for Republicans.
The delegation members also told party faithful about bills working through the General Assembly that would toughen state laws against sexual predators, limit the right of government to seize property through eminent domain and one bill designed to recoup state expenses for indigent health care by charging a fee to wire money out of the country.
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